Read before you vote

  • Ahead of the election season, Lounge recommends 12 recent and forthcoming books that help you understand India’s democracy
  • From political finance to vote-banks, the books cover a wide ground

THE VERDICT: DECODING INDIA’S ELECTIONS by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R. Sopariwala (Penguin, 599)

Hot off the press this month, The Verdict is already shaking up best-seller lists in India. Written by Prannoy Roy, one of the most familiar faces in television journalism in the country, along with Dorab R. Sopariwala, his senior colleague at NDTV, this is a sobering account of the history of India’s electoral politics. Starting with the first general election in 1952, the book brings the reader up to speed with issues that continue to buzz around this season. From the efficacy of opinion and exit polls to the tampering of electronic voting machines to anti-incumbency—the veterans cast their hawk eye on factors that will decide the fate of the nation for the next five years.

HINDU RASHTRA by Ashutosh (Westland-Context, 599)

Is the famous Modi wave, which is believed to have brought the current government to power in 2014, on the wane? Former Aam Aadmi Party politician Ashutosh returns to his original career as a journalist to ask hard questions about the state of the nation in his new book. Will hard-line Hindutva be a strong enough calling card in these polls for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies or is the ordinary Indian fed up with ideological spin-offs? Have the disastrous demonetization exercise and attacks on minority communities disenchanted a public that had once put its trust in the government’s development agenda?

JOBONOMICS: INDIA’S EMPLOYMENT CRISIS AND WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS by Goutam Das (Hachette India, 599)

One of the rallying cries of the opposition in the forthcoming election is the rise in unemployment rate, worsened by the ruling party’s failure to create as many jobs as it had projected when it came to power. Based on field reports from across the country, journalist Goutam Das argues that some 200 million Indians will be staring at unemployment or underemployment by 2025 if the job market isn’t fixed soon. That’s a staggering ask for whichever government is voted in.

THE GREAT MARCH OF DEMOCRACY: SEVEN DECADES OF INDIA’S ELECTIONS edited by S.Y. Quraishi (Penguin, 699)

In this edited anthology, a former chief election commissioner brings together opinions, views, reportage and historical reflections on the process and purpose of electoral politics in independent India. A range of personalities from different walks of life—public servants, bureaucrats, scholars, journalists, business leaders—comment on the ways in which the elections have impacted their fields of work. Shashi Tharoor, Christophe Jaffrelot, T.N. Seshan, Ratan Tata, Naina Lal Kidwai and Mark Tully feature among the august line-up of contributors.

ASCETIC GAMES: SADHUS, AKHARAS AND THE MAKING OF THE HINDU VOTE by Dhirendra K. Jha (Westland-Context, 599)

Before the Pulwama attacks, one of the burning agendas of this general election for the government was the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. In his latest book, journalist Dhirendra K. Jha explores the role of the sadhus (ascetic holy men) in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which has acted as a Hindutva calling card so far. By reporting on the nexus between sadhus, Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers and political leaders, Jha presents a comprehensive account of the way in which akharas (originally meant to provide training in monasticism and the martial arts) have been militarized. Not many books take such a clear-eyed view of the dynamics that dictate the life and role of sadhus in contemporary India.


THE RSS: ICONS OF THE INDIAN RIGHT by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay (Westland-Context, 799)

Who are the leading lights of right-wing ideology in India? While some of them—Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, V.D. Savarkar, K.B. Hedgewar—have public recall, not enough is known about their thoughts and beliefs. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, journalist and author of a biography of Narendra Modi among other books, paints pen portraits of the pillars of the Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose thinking has influenced the BJP and shaped many of the values it stands for.


THE RSS: ICONS OF THE INDIAN RIGHT by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay (Westland-Context, 799)

Who are the leading lights of right-wing ideology in India? While some of them—Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, V.D. Savarkar, K.B. Hedgewar—have public recall, not enough is known about their thoughts and beliefs. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, journalist and author of a biography of Narendra Modi among other books, paints pen portraits of the pillars of the Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose thinking has influenced the BJP and shaped many of the values it stands for.

POLITICS OF JUGAAD: THE COALITION HANDBOOK by Saba Naqvi (Rupa, 295)

The C-word has always occupied an ambiguous place in Indian politics. Do coalition governments amplify the scope of our democratic principles or do they bring in instability and disharmony? One of India’s best-known political analysts, Saba Naqvi approaches this question through the prism of the quintessentially subcontinental concept of jugaad—innovative hacks to solve a knotty problem.

DEMOCRACY ON THE ROAD: A 25-YEAR JOURNEY THROUGH INDIA by Ruchir Sharma (Penguin, 699)

For the last 25 years, Ruchir Sharma has travelled through India, meeting ordinary citizens and political leaders, during each election season. He distils his long experience in this book, taking into account dynastic politics, caste equations, the influence of Bollywood, god-men (and women) and much else, on voting patterns. Featuring interviews with Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, this part-travelogue, part-analysis decodes the throbbing heart of India’s democracy.

THE VIRTUAL HINDU RASHTRA: SAFFRON NATIONALISM AND NEW MEDIA by Rohit Chopra (HarperCollins India, 399)

A professor of communications at Santa Clara University in the US, Chopra runs the popular @IndiaExplained handle on Twitter. Appropriately, his new book is about the formation and consolidation of a “Hindu Rashtra" on the World Wide Web, especially via social media platforms and messaging apps like WhatsApp. Examining the evidence online and analysing its repercussions, this is a deep dive into the way new media is redefining the terms of democratic engagement.


HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION: TRICKS DESPOTS PLAY by Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas (HarperCollins India, 599)

While all elections are, in theory, meant to be free and fair democratic exercises, their association with rigging is inescapable. From Belarus to the US, Zimbabwe to India, no nation can entirely escape this taint. Drawing on a wide range of examples, from the historical past to more contemporary contexts, the authors unravel the twisted machinations despots often adopt to cling to power.


COSTS OF DEMOCRACY: POLITICAL FINANCE IN INDIA edited by Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav (Oxford University Press, 750)

The political economy of India’s elections is essential to understand the deeper electoral dynamics in the nation. In this volume, a range of scholars from diverse fields throw light on the cost of running elections. From sources of political finance to the black holes into which such money is often lost, a range of questions come under scrutiny. The logic of exorbitant spending, complex money flow channels, political influence and much else become clear from the essays included in the book.

HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: WHAT POLITICAL PARTIES DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW by Shivam Shankar Singh (Penguin, 299)

A former election campaigner for the BJP provides a ringside view of the back-room shenanigans of electoral politics in this account. From raising funds to using social media to swing results, the strategies adopted by major political parties are dissected using data, research and Singh’s first-hand experiences—until disillusionment with the BJP led to his dramatic departure from it last year.

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